How tech has changed the game when it comes to gift-giving


Yiannis Faf, Co-founder, WhatWeWant

From the holidays we celebrate, to the presents we traditionally buy, each culture has its own unique set of norms that govern the practice of gift giving.

In recent years, however, this practice has changed for people around the world. It has been driven by the proliferation of technology. Namely, I refer to the move towards online and mobile shopping, which has ultimately transformed the way we search for, purchase and exchange gifts.

Take Christmas as a simple example. As we know, the day is generally marked by widespread gift exchanges, between everyone from family and friends to neighbours and colleagues. Yet while traditionally people would venture out to shops and markets in search of the ideal present, this practice has largely moved into the online domain. Approximately three quarters of consumers here in the UK said they now buy more than half of their Christmas presents online.

What this shows is that technology has changed the very psychology of gift giving. Yet there is a more profound trend at play – we are experiencing an evolution in the way we fundamentally think about gift giving and the cultures surrounding it.

A more convenient way to give 

The lean towards online shopping is no surprise. After all, it gives people a convenient way to search for the perfect gift for their loved ones, all the while being able to avoid crowded retail stores. The time and cost saving elements here are key – users of smartphones, tablets and laptops can browse the Internet without having to leave the comfort of their own homes. 

What’s more, online shopping offers a much greater degree of transparency; shoppers can easily compare prices between different products or retailers and scout out competitive offers. Online retail giants like Amazon have become a go-to for those keen to purchase a present at the touch of a button. 

As we have witnessed first-hand here at WhatWeWant, convenience is key for the modern consumer. Shoppers today want to simplify the way they browse for and purchase gifts, with apps and online platforms offering the ideal solution given the tech is already integrated into our daily lives.

The growing influence of social media

One of the most influential aspects of flourishing social media platforms today – such as Facebook and Instagram – is the ability to build an online network of friends, relatives, and general acquaintances. What this means is that social media sites have become an important driver of change in a great many aspects of our lives, including the culture of gift giving. 

Digital gift exchanges through these platforms are becoming the new normal, and this is generally the result of people mimicking the behavioural patterns of other users. A paper published in 2018 by Facebook, for instance, explored the increasingly common trend of ‘digital gift exchanges,’ and found that when a person received a gift on Facebook for their birthday, they were then 56% more likely to also give an online gift through the platform. 

This digital practice appears to be slowly taking over traditional exchanges. The study found that these gifts were becoming replacements for offline gifts about half the time. 

Elsewhere, social media is also changing the way we discover and share new experiences. With many of us guilty of spending significant chunks of our day scrolling through our social feeds, we inadvertently stumble upon a range of different activities and potential gift ideas that we previously hadn’t considered. 

With the rise of social media sharing, whereby users post photos, videos and even reviews of their experiences (whether this is of products or activities), this serves to inspire their followers to try these for themselves, or else gift them to those they think might also enjoy them. 

The rise of the experiential gift 

This brings us onto the trend taking the gift giving world by storm: the rise of the experiential gift. It’s difficult to define an experiential gift, as it can range from anything to attending a concert to receiving a spa treatment. But one thing is for certain: more and more people are turning away from material gifts in search of those that offer a memorable experience. Indeed, a recent survey by Barclaycard found over half (52%) of consumers would rather pay for a good experience than spend their money on material possessions. 

Online marketplaces like Groupon and Treatwell have supported this trend, offering users endless options of activities to gift to friends and family. Going back to the festive theme, during the 2018 Christmas season the UK spent a whopping £1.6 billion on experience gifts. 

We cannot say this is a brand-new trend, however. After all, gift cards and vouchers for quirky experiences have existed for a long time. But what has changed is the ease with which consumers today can find such experiences.

One point to note is the cost of this form of gift. While in years gone by the exchange of books, games and DVDs wouldn’t make a huge dent in our savings, experiences like a tasting menu at a nice restaurant obviously represents a much heftier expense. Technology has been quick to offer a solution here too, though. Today, friends and family are able to pool their funds in order to buy someone a gift they would find value in. 

Again, this was at the heart of WhatWeWant’s creation. We understand that people often prefer their contacts to come together and purchase one amazing present (often an experience) rather than them buying multiple smaller presents we may not want or need.

What does this mean for the future of gift-giving?

Besides changing people’s gift-giving habits, the rise of the ‘experience economy’ brings with it a number of benefits. For one, it reduces the exchange of unwanted gifts, and allows people to instead choose presents that are more suited to the receivers’ lifestyle and hobbies. 

There is also the obvious social element; by sharing experiences with loved ones, this cultural change in gift giving opens the doors to creating cherished memories and encouraging people to try new things. 

Looking to the future, we are sure to see the rise of even more creative ways to share gifts in a faster and more convenient way. 

Already, the dynamics of online gift-giving are changing and offering answers to the problems that people stumble across. For instance, gifts lists are becoming an increasingly common way to direct people towards a specific present that the recipient might want. As a more general point, we can expect the practice of gift giving to become even further entrenched in the digital world in the coming years. 

WhatWeWant (WWW) is a crowdfunding app that acts as the ultimate, easy-to-use gifting solution. Users can conveniently upload any gift they wish to receive from anywhere, the app will automatically notify friends and family by inviting them to contribute to the gift, once the target has been reached the user can withdraw their money and simply get What They Want.